First Year T-versary, Depression, Recovery

I just passed the one year mark on T. As with all commemorative moments in life, it felt both monumental and like just another day in a stream of hundreds. I keep going. One day at a time. I’m also approaching my 34th birthday, which feels monumental and mundane as well.

I want to spend some time reflecting today – mostly for the writing process itself – less to arrive anywhere or analyze anything in particular. I heard one writer say that he finds himself as he writes. I can relate. Often, I set out, with no real intention, and spiral into something illuminating.

I have just come from a yoga class. I’ve been going twice weekly the past month and that has helped me feel a rather important shift in my sense of presence. I’m focused on bringing the practice back to my everyday life. Sitting for meditation again is really opening my mind to clearer views. I’m back to full throttle sobriety (after another 5 months of daily drinking) and attend Refuge Recovery meetings, which were founded by Noah Levine, the author of Dharma Punx. I’ve been resistant to AA because of the god factor, so this is a great alternative. Noah incorporates secular Buddhist principles and a punk rock ethos (ie sobriety / meditation as radical acts) which speaks to me and the background I come from. I’ve met some other queers in the group and generally feel the potential to develop a sense of community there. *I’m now 53 days sober*.

One of the side effects of getting sober has been very clearly seeing  / feeling the effects of a life of chronic, low-grade depression, or dysthymia. I have functioned with this  for many years and because I’ve self-medicated / distracted negative feeling tones / thoughts with alcohol, I’ve not really sat with the depressive feelings. They return now that I’m getting quiet and being present to allow them to surface. At times they swell with intensity (as they did this Saturday and I felt an intense sense of hopelessness) and other times it’s a more subtle itch of dissatisfaction, worry, melancholy.

I find myself questioning if it’s neuro chemistry – if it’s sobriety – if it’s part of my disposition that I can work to counteract. I’m taking good steps to implement self-care. I can’t imagine doing much more in that realm. I am returning to the question of trying an antidepressant. I have been reluctant for a number of years, but feel it very likely that I am serotonin-deficient, much as I learned to conceptualize myself as testosterone-deficient. I carry a lot of expectation on myself to ‘figure this shit out’ without chemical intervention, but much like I softened into seeing I needed to medically transition to live as a man, I can see the potential benefit of boosting my neuro chemicals. At least it doesn’t hurt to try.

And what can I say about my first year on T? It took me to many unexpected places (including the men’s restroom!) and there would be no way I could have anticipated how any of it would feel prior to living it. I feel myself shifting a bit to a less chaotic sense of being. There is still significant change, and I am only 4 months into working at a new job where I am simply known as a man (and gay) except to a few people I’ve come out to as trans*. Despite having ‘passing privilege’ more and more, and very rarely being misgendered (hooray!!!), I wade through new shades of dysphoria. My mental image of myself is still shifting. I sometimes look in the mirror for the evidence that, indeed, I am reflecting a masculine embodiment to the world. Inwardly, I’m learning to integrate the yin and yang aspects of my personality, rather than thinking I need to reject all that is culturally labeled as ‘feminine’ – empathy, kindness, self-reflection, relationality (how fucked up is that?). I’ve struggled a bit to know how to navigate the ‘dude-bro’ codes in social interactions with cis men,but thankfully these are few and far between given I tend to spend most of my time with queers.

I simply can’t avoid mentioning hair growth (I am a predictable trans-man in this sense). The facial hair is making an appearance – sideburns, a nice collection on the upper lip and chin (almost a goatee). It could, indeed, be the year of the beard. My voice continues to get deeper, which I LOVE! I’m still learning how to speak (project) after years of living rather silently. My quiet nature sometimes feels at odds with the masculine code to ‘man-splain’ (I am not and cannot imagine ever being one to do this), but I’m also learning to embrace my quiet, introverted nature as a strength. Hip shrinkage continues (yay!) and I’ve lost about 8 pounds since I stopped drinking. I’m not lifting weights, but I exercise a lot more than I have in the past few years. I feel fit and strong. My top surgery consultation is booked for June and I’m setting the intention to have surgery sometime this summer or autumn. I have not hesitation whatsoever about this and feel incredibly grateful that my insurance will pay for it! Wow!

My words for the coming year: COMPASSION, EMBODIMENT, INTEGRATION

 

 

10.5 months on T

Another 4+ months has passed since my last update. In many ways, this time has been all-consuming as I’ve been focused on settling into my new home, beginning the work of finding work, building community (which requires a lot of over socializing), starting a new romantic relationship, getting more ID paperwork in order, and falling off the sobriety ship. I’m just now feeling like I can catch my breath and reflect on the whirlwind.

First off, and probably the most simple and straightforward, T changes. I switched to injections almost 5 months ago and doubled the dose I was taking. I’m at .5cc/weekly for anyone interested (seems to be the standard starting dose in the US). I have been surprised that I actually enjoy jabbing myself. Perhaps this is the inner kinkster/deviant in me. Whatever the case, I’m grateful I enjoy the process. The dose also feels much better and the physical changes are more palpable. My voice has significantly dropped. I’m getting the beginning growth of sideburns and a goatee (a lot of chin hair), my muscle / fat ratio is redistributing (hips are narrowing), and my treasure trail is quite significant. In these 4 months, I’ve also had my gender-marker changed to M, which has made my life at a new job much easier. I started day one with all my ID documents sorted, so everyone knows me by my name and refers to me as ‘he’ (‘tho there have been a few instances of misgendering).

On the topic of social gendering, I am being consistently read and referred to as male by strangers. It has brought such profound relief. AND, I’m experiencing what I’d refer to as ‘gender jet-lag’. I sometimes find it hard to believe that people really see me as male. Sometimes I have a hard time seeing myself as male. This is not overly surprising given I lived over 30 years of my life as a woman. I trust it’s going to begin to feel more natural with time. I’m still having dreams of being forced to de-transition or of being questioned about my ‘true’ identity, which I take as indication that my subconscious is still working to update to this newly possible way of living in the world as a man.

In some ways, I wonder if the hardest parts of affirming my gender are behind me – and if I’m now moving into a stage of settling in for the next couple of years. If I look at the trajectory of puberty, I envision 3-5 years to really settle in. I’m still waiting on my insurance to approve surgery, which will be amazing once it gets worked out. I have another assessment to complete and then I’ll be able to book a consultation with a surgeon. My goal is have surgery this year, preferably before September. I’m hoping to take some time off this summer for recovery. Fingers crossed.

In the last 4 months I’ve also started a new relationship with a trans-man (a first for me). Our sexual connection has completely revolutionized what I thought was possible. I had essentially written off the possibility of having self-empowering and connected sex with anyone. Reading through my last entries, I hear myself grappling with a way to conceptualize this. I tried on various labels – asexual, demi-sexual. At times I felt empowered by these labels because they seemed like the closest thing to describe my experience. However, it turns out, in my case (not to discount anyone else’s experience) that the more congruent I feel in my body, and with a partner who makes me feel safe and sees me as the person I see myself to be, sex is not only possible but also incredibly enjoyable and satisfying. I don’t dissociate or feel anxious. I’m still in an exploratory phase in which I’m feeling out what feels best for me, but for the first time in my life this doesn’t feel like hard work. For that, I am truly grateful.

The last update has to do with alcohol. 4+ months ago I was writing about my journey to sobriety. I made it 4 months completely sober. Then I moved, and a couple weeks after being in a new city, found myself drinking to ease social situations. That first glass of wine at a dinner party turned into daily imbibing at an amount which continued to creep up, included drinking alone, and ultimately resulted in me feeling disconnected, foggy, and generally bad about myself. Unfortunately, most of the friends I’ve made drink regularly and many of our social engagements involve drinking at a local queer pub that opened up the weekend I arrived. After a weekend of heavy partying and one particularly frightening incident in which a friend might have been drugged, I feel ready to look at this again. I see that I’ve gone off track. I’m not entirely sure if 100% sobriety is what I desire or what’s ultimately best for me in the long-term, but I’ve made a commitment to have 4 alcohol-free days/week, and to limit myself to two beers/day otherwise. This feels like a good start to give me a sense of control again – something I’ve been missing.

Once again, a pragmatic update, but useful for my own archive.

6 Months on T (almost) & New Beginnings

I have not blogged in nearly 3 months! I won’t re-hash all of what happened in the last three months because, quite frankly, they were some of the hardest months I’ve experienced in a long while. Getting sober. Trying to figure out what to do when my visa ran up. Dealing with someone falling in love with me while I was trying to make big decisions. Finishing my second Master’s degree. In essence, I was balancing on a precipice, and only barely coping. I had chronic insomnia, anxiety, and bouts of depression. Not fun.

The good news is, I made it through, and I’m now back in my home country, the US, in a new city. I landed a sweet share house with another trans-guy. There is a huge trans/queer community around me. Visa issues no longer linger over my head. For the first time in 6 years (since living abroad), I feel that I can start to nest, which is exactly what I need as I continue on this gender odyssey.

Now, for some updates regarding medical/social/emotional stuff:

My official name change came through just before I moved back to the US which means I now have ID with my real name. This feels incredible! My gender marker remains to be changed, but I’m not worried about that at this stage.

Testosterone: I’ve been on Testo-gel (50g/day) for about 3 months. It has been going well. I’m going to start injections in the next couple of weeks. The reasons for this are that I’d like to increase my dose, it’s cheaper, and I like the idea of not needing to do something every day. I originally started on trans-dermal because I wanted to take things slowly and was worried about the mood swings that might ensue on top of all the other change in my life. Now that I’m starting to settle in and build a new community, I’m ready to explore a new stage of medical treatment. I’m excited about this, and also slightly anxious as it’s new and I’m not sure how my body will respond. I assume that since I’ve established a strong foundation over the last 6 months, it won’t be too dramatic of a shift.

Menstruation: Stopped after month 1 (with one little spotting blip, which I’d assume was related to the extreme stress I was under).

Voice change: This has now significantly dropped (started to around month 4.5-5). It feels great, but I’ve yet to pass the ‘sir’ test on the telephone.

Hair growth: Yep, this is definitely happening. I have a significant mustache and chin hairs are sprouting. Fuzz is popping up all over my face, but I shave because it’s mostly fluff and makes me feel more ‘feminine.’ The whole beard thing remains mysterious to me at this stage, but I think about it ALL THE TIME. I have also collected a significant amount of belly hair and leg and underarm hair continues to grow into some epic bushiness. I LOVE IT.

Libido: Steady and not overly distracting like it was in months 2-4. My attractions shift. Currently I’m more attracted to male-shaped bodies. I’ve never had a strong sexuality label for myself, and have a history of romantic/sexual relationships with cis-men/cis-women and genderqueer people, so I don’t feel ‘confused’ like some trans-men describe. I generally know that my attractions vary person to person and are largely based on intellectual/emotional connection. That said, I’m interested in exploring casual hook-ups with cis-men (in the future). I’ve never had sex without an emotional connection, but feel this could be an empowering exploration. I do think I might feel more comfortable with my body and sexuality in general once I’ve had chest reconstruction surgery.

Top surgery: There are no dates set, but I am working toward this. It might be the case that the insurance I get will cover the costs, in which case, I’d love to schedule this for the end of the year or perhaps around my birthday in March 2016, which is when I’ll be a year on T. The dysphoria around my chest is still very present, but because I’m seeing a lot of other changes, I’m not so focused on it. Also, not being in a relationship helps me so I don’t have to navigate how to be naked / semi-naked with another person.

Moods/Emotions: I was feeling a bit concerned that I couldn’t cry for the first 5 months on T. Given all the stress I was under, I wanted some kind of release. I found other outlets like exercise, which was a life saver! I did finally cry when I said good-bye to my best friend in Australia. The experience was different, however. It was shorter and felt less all-encompassing. Otherwise, I don’t know if I can really comment on my moods because there has been so much simultaneous change going on (getting sober and the stress/anxiety of moving countries). I will wait and see how things settle in the next couple months. Generally, I’m feeling quite positive and calm since starting this new chapter of life.

Misgendering: It still happens. A LOT. It’s very confronting. I try to work out why I get misgendered, and I believe it’s a combination of the lack of facial hair, and the fact that I don’t perform masculinity in typical ways. I am essentially soft-spoken, empathetic, relational, artsy, queer – many cis-women are much more ‘masculine’ than me in their personalities / behaviors. I am starting to feel more OK with this and know that it’s just a matter of time before people read me as ‘male’ solely based on physical signifiers. It may require a beard. I don’t exactly know. I’m doing my best to just ride this wave, as uncomfortable as it is. I know that it is temporary.

Toilets: I’m now consistently using unisex or male toilets. I dart into a stall and dart out. It works just fine. I don’t plan on ever using urinals, but for my own use, I have found that a medicine spoon works wonders as an STP. I simply carry it around in my pocket (I don’t pack because it makes me feel more dysphoric) and use it when needed. Being able to pee standing up has felt very healing for my body integrity.

So, this is a bit of a pragmatic post, but it will be useful to look back at when I’m thinking about changes over time. Thanks for reading! I’ll try to write more interesting reflections in the future.

3 Months on T, Non-sexual, Non-exclusive Romantic Relationships and Sobriety

The title of this post is ambitious. I want to cover a bit of terrain since I’ve been inundated with marking student essays and have generally been more externally focused on my health and well-being (which means less time for blogging).

Sobriety: I’ve found a great online support community to help support me in sobriety, so won’t be using this space for that purpose anymore. The site is called Hello Sunday Morning (I write under the moniker @rhizome if you’re interested in following my alcohol free journey). I highly recommend this site – the premise is based on the belief that everyone can benefit from examining their relationship with alcohol (it’s not just for those who struggle with dependency like myself). You can sign up for a 3 month alcohol free goal just for an experiment, or, like me, go for the long haul and get tremendous support from others doing the same.

3 months on T: It’s a great feeling! I’ve just switched to Testo-gel (5g sachet/day) as the patches were starting to irritate my skin, and also I’m doubling my dose, so wearing two patches was cumbersome. According to my recent lab results, my T levels are at 241 (with a cis-male range at 260-300). I’m a bit of a numbers person because it helps me psychologically. There’s ample evidence that my body is responding, but I also like seeing these numbers as further validation.

I’m still holding out for my monthly cycle to stop, so hopefully the larger dose will help. This will be a big milestone for me. The slight voice drop is improving my confidence as well and I can only hope that will continue. I still get mis-gendered, but not everyday. As a form of self-care, I’ve decided to stop going certain places where I’ve always been seen as female (cafes, hairdresser) because it’s too confronting at this stage.

Non-Sexual, Non-exclusive Romantic Relationships: The past year I’ve been exploring different kinds of relationship structures, attempting to define for myself (and therefore help me communicate to others) what works best for me. I’ve determined that I’m not yet ready for sexual intimacy until my body integrity is more consolidated. I questioned if this was just avoidance/fear, but I now accept that it’s a form of self-care. The past 2 months I’ve been getting to know someone new, and we’ve now comfortably carved out a romantic-non-sexual-affectionate-getting-to-know-you arrangement. Whilst she is sexual and desires sexual intimacy with me, she’s happy to not have this dimension (and there’s not pressure that it must happen soon). Rather, the focus is on establishing emotional and intellectual connection and enjoying shared interests together. But it’s not strictly platonic. We still engage in touch, which adds a level of intimacy that feels just right at this stage (hand-holding, massage, cuddling, etc). The level of communication is strong so I know we can continually navigate changes as they occur, if and when we decide to shift dynamics or adjust how we conceptualise our relationship. All I can say to this is: Yay for queernees! Yay for normative relationship anarchy! I’m so grateful to have met someone who is equally open to challenging these ideological structures.

14 Days Sober; 77 Days on T

the voiceIt’s an unexpected turn of events that this blog is now used to chart two BIG life changes. At the same time, it’s not that unexpected. It makes sense that affirming my gender and the amount of self-enquiry that has gone into this would also necessitate an evaluation of other areas of my life. Not only do I not want to spend the rest of my life in a body that feels like some kind of practical joke on the the best of days, and a cage on the worst, but I also don’t want to live with the head-bashing self-doubt and shame that accompany the secretive path of alcohol dependency.

I’m proud to have made it to the 2 week sobriety mark, and particularly to have navigated two weekends without drinking (quite novel). I had a fair amount of cravings wash over me, but I was intrigued to watch their crests peak and then ebb in a relatively short amount of time. I absolutely relished a Saturday and Sunday morning without a hangover – quite a NEW feeling (even though I have been VERY tired the past couple weeks and with headaches / stress still felt somewhat dazed).

I question if I might be in a honeymoon phase of sobriety, but even so, I’m celebrating that for what it is and trying not to worry that it’s going to fade! I don’t know how long it will last, but it’s lovely for now. I’m contemplating what might be best to support me in the long-term (ie should I go to AA?). I have to admit I’m a bit nervous about not feeling aligned with the philosophy, as an atheist (and also someone who hasn’t ‘lost everything’ to alcohol, which I often imagine is the norm in these groups – a belief which may be entirely wrong). Given I have a fair amount of queer friends who socialise over things other than alcohol (most do, actually), I feel well supported. I suppose I’ll see how it goes over time and how my relationship to wanting or not wanting to drink migrates.

Regarding T updates – nearly 3 months!

In the past two weeks I’ve doubled my dose (now 10mg/day – Androderm patches). I’m planning my next GP visit this week or next to get my levels checked and to switch to Axiron (the gel which goes on under the arm). I’ve been finding the patches a but cumbersome, so would like to try something new. I’m still not keen on injections because I want a steady dose day-to-day to support mood stability.

Physical changes include the addition of a new, delightfully fuzzy mustache that’s filling in. Chin hairs continue to sprout ever so subtly. My face is becoming more angular. More musculature (push-ups continue to get easier and remain a pastime of sorts which I find hilarious). Sexual arousal is quite strong (porn is becoming a bit of a pastime – I can recommend ftmfucker.com). I cannot cry, which is a bit strange since I used to cry quite frequently. Generally, I’m thrilled for more stable moods and significantly less anxiety. And, drumroll please! My voice is going through its first drop. Tonight I experienced the first CRACK, which was shared in the company of a lovely friend, on the street corner, in the rain. We both laughed hysterically and lunged toward each other for an embrace. She knows how much that CRACK meant to me, and oh how delicious to share with someone who gets it!

Day 10 Sobriety & New Thoughts on Why Moderation Has Never Worked For Me

drink-in-moderation

The past couple days, I’ve been revisiting some old journal entries from about a year and a half ago. At that point in time, I was also attempting sobriety, but I framed it as a ‘break’ from drinking. I had just returned from visiting family. Seeing family has always meant a steady stream of drinking throughout the day to cope with the anxiety of being around them. Every time I’ve gone for a visit, I’ve taken a walk on the first night, bought a bottle of whiskey, and secretly made myself drinks to provide a steady drip of numbness. My parents don’t drink at all (Dad considers himself a recovering ‘alcoholic’, as did his step father). I remember telling friends I did this. It became a story which was met with laughter and even nods of approval. I’m still processing my anger at how normalised alcohol is as a way to cope with difficult emotions.

Anyway, back to reflecting on this time a year and a half ago. Upon return home from the visit, of course I stopped at the duty-free shop in the airport and proceeded to drink half a bottle of gin the first couple nights’ back. In one entry I wrote about lying on my office floor with a hangover and serious digestive issues. That seemed to be what led to the sobriety experimentation. I made it to Day 11, slipped up, started again, made it a few days sober, then let rationalisations creep in, like telling myself I was thinking in black & white terms and that I needed to embrace moderation. The rest of the year (2014) slipped away, and I resumed old patterns of drinking multiple times a week to cope with life. Again, this behaviour was kept secret or normalised enough that I was able to dismiss any cognitive dissonance I felt about it.

Although chaotic drinking, where my life was severely impacted by the frequency/quantity of use feels like a distant past, it has also been useful for me to recall over the past few days. I remember the very first night I drank (age 17), I blacked out. This was followed by a DUI a few years’ later, losing my driver’s license, getting fired for drinking on the job, getting into fights and numerous mornings waking up, feeling shame and regret for things I had done the night before, if I could remember. Again, given I no longer use alcohol to this extent, I thought my use was unproblematic. Who cares if I drink alone or secretively, as long as it’s ‘regulated’?

The term alcoholic doesn’t sit right for me (mostly because of the image I have of the chaotic drinker/addict, which I don’t fit). The term dependency, however, seems appropriate. It has come to my attention just how much head space has been taken up by alcohol – thinking about it, planning when I’ll next drink, debating how much to drink, feeling regret for drinking, etc.

I came across the idea that certain people have a really hard time moderating for this very reason – that is, by trying to employ a moderate approach, a whole lot of head space is required to figure out just what is moderate, to set up rules. There’s a constant debate about how to set or reconfigure the parameters, which becomes mentally exhausting. These people, actually benefit from abstinence, in order to free up mental space for other things. When I read this I suddenly understood why moderation has never worked for me! The constant debates themselves made me want to drink just to resolve the mental chatter!

So, sobriety continues to feel like my only way forward. Indefinitely.

I’m already feeling the clearing of my thoughts, having removed alcohol from the dialogue, and I continue to feel motivated and optimistic about moving forward on this path. I’m pleased that I’m not even entertaining the thought that moderation is possible for me at this stage (as I have in the past).

There is still a lot of unpacking to do about my proclivity to numb (and what lies beneath), but I’m taking it day-by-day. At the moment, I’m focusing on being as healthy as possible. My body feels like lead at the moment, so I’m doing my best to just get through each day with attention to eating well, exercising, and SLEEP. I could sleep for days, it seems. I wonder if this might not also be part of the testosterone, the recent depression I’m coming out of, and the general busyness with end-of-semester teaching activities? Soon I’ll be on break, so hopefully I can get myself back to a more balanced state with some serious R&R.

A quiet declaration to face my alcohol dependency: Day 7 sobriety

smash the wineThis is not a confession or deluge of shame. Not a defeated diatribe or hollow gesture. It’s not a ‘cry for help’ or recalcitrant rant.

This string of words is more subtle. Soft around the edges. Terrified, but hopeful.

For the past decade I’ve misused alcohol to numb my emotions, manage anxiety/depression, and avoid difficult questions (like gender identity) and situations (like sex / family interactions). But, I’ve always been high-functioning – VERY much so, to the point that I’ve never been convinced my behaviours were problematic – or at least not enough to address with sincerity and integrity. And yet, all along, I’ve known my drinking was excessive. This has led to  moments in the past couple of years when I have opened up to friends – told them I might have an issue with drinking. Each time (and I can think of 3 examples), I wasn’t really taken seriously. I was told I was overreacting, that I ‘seemed’ moderate, and not to worry about it. So I didn’t.

Until I did, again, after drinking myself to sleep two nights in a row last weekend, during a depressive dip. Last night, talking about it with a new friend, my feelings were finally validated – that yes, this does raise red flags, and yes, alcohol abuse can come in many forms and doesn’t necessarily mean I’m waking up, reaching for a drink and drinking throughout the day, everyday.

I might not fit the description of an alcoholic in these terms, but I am dependent. I have a hard time conceptualising my life without alcohol. Immediately I think, how will I cope? There have always been stashes of bottles in my sock drawer, closets and pantries, just to ‘take the edge off.’ What will life be like without that go-to comfort? I don’t know yet.

I’ve finally reached a stage at which I no longer want to take the edge off. Rather, I want to go to the edge, even if that means seeing myself and feeling the rawness of my emotional landscape without escape.

So, today marks 7 days sobriety.

For the first time in my life, I can honestly say that I HAVE to choose abstinence. There’s no other way forward, as the last decade has proven to me.

This is my quiet declaration, fused with equal parts determination and fear.